A friend of mine gave me the book entitled Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. She asked me to read it and tell her what I thought.
The main character was a severely retarded young man named Charlie Gordon, who becomes the first human subject in the trial of an experimental drug for treating mental retardation.
Algernon was one of a large group of rats that were bred to be retarded in order to test the new drug. All the rats developed and maintained long-term dramatic improvements. All of them except Algernon were sacrificed and dissected to confirm the success of the drug with no side effects.
Charlie became the first human subject to use the new drug. The researchers let Charlie build a relationship Algernon and teach him new skills. Charlie fell in love with Algernon.
Charlie kept a daily journal as part of the experiment and the book is written as if it were developed from Charlie’s journals. The book presents Charlie’s first person account of his life as a retarded (severely cognitively impaired) person. Then described his growing self and environmental awareness as he progressively developed above average cognition.
Charlie was functioning well and the researchers thought they had found a cure. Suddenly, Algernon, who aged far more rapidly than humans, regressed. Charlie knew it would happen to him also. He applied his knew-found genius to figuring out what caused Algernon’s regression.
He couldn’t figure out what went wrong. His journal reflects his descent back into severe dementia. Algernon dies Just before Charlie regressed back into severe intractable retardation. Charlie asks the researcher to get FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON and put them on his grave.
When I asked my friend why she wanted me to read the book, she said: “Terry, I think you already know!” And she was right. I did know. I thought of my father who disappeared before my eyes, a victim of progressive and untreatable dementia.
Flowers For Algernon gave me insight into what people suffering from progressive dementia must experience. It was a realistic sensitive and compelling look at a serious and far too common condition plaguing humanity.